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Breastfeeding is a beautiful bonding experience for both mother and child.
Unfortunately, it can also be painful.
Many women have found ways to make breastfeeding less painful so they can enjoy the process even more while providing their baby with all of the nutrients they need to grow strong and healthy.
In this article, we’ll explore some different techniques that may help you better manage your pain when breastfeeding.
The causes of breastfeeding pain – why does it hurt so bad?
There are many reasons breastfeeding may be uncomfortable for mom. For example, some mothers have trouble with supply. Some of these symptoms may be caused by the baby’s teeth during nursing, engorged breasts and nipple confusion for babies who also bottle feed or use a pacifier.
Sudden increase in friction
A new mother’s nipples have not had the attention during pregnancy that they’re now getting from their new baby. The friction of baby’s mouth can be uncomfortable and cause pain for some mothers, especially just after birth.
How to make it more comfortable – Try a warm and slightly damp face washer to soften the skin before feeding, and follow up each feed with a breastfeeding safe ointment or cream. Nipples do ‘toughen up’ after a little while, but be sure to ask for advice from your doctor or lactation consultant before things get too bad. Try and let your nipples air dry before applying ointment, particularly to cracked nipples.
Another cause of pain is that a baby does not latch correctly while nursing. If the tongue is not at the back opening of their mother’s breast, but instead laps around the nipple, it can cause a burning sensation. Tongue-tied babies may also exhibit this type of nursing pattern.
How to make it more comfortable – Make sure to take the time to latch your baby properly. Learning about how babies correctly latch is important for successful breastfeeding – don’t be afraid to break the suction baby has on your breast and try to latch them again. In the first few days after birth, your doctor or midwife will generally spend some time watching how you and baby are starting your breastfeeding journey. Take this opportunity to get advice.
Some women have flat or inverted nipples, which makes it even more difficult for baby to latch on correctly; especially when they’re engorged and hard as rocks!
How to make it more comfortable – I had success with using a breastfeeding ‘shield’ which helps baby latch on to the nipple and makes it a little easier for your child to get those first few sucks in. It helped ease us both in to the journey, and I found I didn’t need to use them after the first few weeks.
A mother’s nipples may be over stimulated too much by a baby who also uses a pacifier or bottle. This can cause confusion for the little one and he/she may reject the breast at times.
How to make it more comfortable – Consider trying some other bottle teats and pacifier brands. There are specific bottles with teats designed for combination feeding which can make the transition from a bottle to your breasts a whole lot easier.
Areola / breast skin issues
Friction on the areola / wider breast area
The breasts are engorged with milk and the skin around the nipple can become stretched out. The extra skin makes it more difficult for a baby to latch on correctly. This can cause pain not only for mom, but also for baby.
How to make it more comfortable – Look for a bra that is designed for breastfeeding and wear it to help support your breasts during feeding. Less exposed skin may be the trick here. You may also consider a breastfeeding shield to cover some of your breast – they’re still supple enough that it should keep your baby comfortable.
Baby’s nails against mom’s skin
The baby’s nails can dig into the skin, especially if he/she is having trouble latching on or when they’re pulling away with frustration.
How to make it more comfortable – Trim those nails! I was trimming my newborn’s nails daily! Mittens are also a winner here, as are breastfeeding bras which can conceal some of that exposed skin.
Around the third or fourth day after birth, mom’s breasts can become engorged. It can also be a problem if you have an oversupply of breast milk, due to high production or if you’ve not fed your baby for a while. This can cause a good deal of pain as well as making it impossible to latch on correctly or at all without releasing some milk first.
How to make it more comfortable – Dampen a face washer or other cloth with warm water and put it near your breasts to help encourage the milk to flow a little quicker. Massage can also be helpful in getting the milk flowing more easily. Try offering breastfeeding sessions more often when you’re dealing with engorgement, or using a breast pump to take the pressure off.
Particularly when you have an abundance of breast milk, bacteria from the baby’s mouth can cause an issue. Thrush is also a potential issue here, which can also be transferred to baby’s mouth. You’re more likely to run into problems if you’ve also got sore or cracked nipples. Mastitis is a common condition caused by this. Signs of infection include warm or tingly discomfort in and around the milk ducts or sore breast tissue.
How to make it more comfortable – See your doctor for medical advice right away. Infection can result in lowered milk supply, and the discomfort you feel will also affect your body’s ability to respond to what baby needs.
Some women have breasts that become blocked with milk, which can cause a buildup of pressure and pain. This is usually uncomfortable or painful, and if it goes untreated may also cause mastitis, pain, inflammation or sensitivity.
How to make it more comfortable – Use warm compresses on the sensitive areas of your breasts as often as needed. You can also try massage but be gentle, and massage toward the nipple. Clogged ducts are common, but you’ll want to deal with things as soon as you see symptoms appear.
Baby is teething
A teething baby may be biting and chewing; they’re doing this as they explore the new things happening in their mouth, but also to relieve their own pain. Instead of chomping on a teething toy or their fingers though, they may chomp on mom.
How to make it more comfortable – By the time your baby’s teeth are coming through, you may find that he’s interested in the breast less and less. Babies are also learning about cause and effect, so you might find that taking baby from your breast and taking the milk away as soon as they’ve bitten will teach them that biting mom means no more milk. When you think his teeth are bothering them, offer more teething toys – frozen washcloths work well here. (which you could also soak in breast milk to satiate them for a little before trying to latch again.
How long does it take for breastfeeding to stop hurting?
The first few weeks can be challenging. Your baby’s latches may not be perfect, she may have a little trouble getting used to the sensation of suckling or your nipples might take a few days to toughen up. All of these things will change with time though; both of you are learning together. Contrary to popular belief, breastfeeding isn’t entirely something that comes ‘naturally’. It might not be pain free right away.
Work with a lactation consultant to learn how to feed your baby. Getting the latch right is the most important part, followed by making sure you’re drinking the water you need. (Sleep is important here too! It’s a challenge, to be sure! Your breasts will do their thing when you’re on low sleep, but they’ll do better if you can get as much rest as possible. You’re going to be tender and need time to heal after birth, after all.)
Once you and baby are on your way, feeding should not be painful. By a few weeks after birth, painful breastfeeding is more likely due to infection or cracked nipples. You may be able to fix these things on your own, but don’t be afraid to reach out for medical advice to treat the problem, too.
If you’re experiencing pain, seek out a lactation consultant
Breastfeeding can be challenging in the beginning because it’s a new sensation for both mom and baby. Some of these challenges may include sore nipples, clogged ducts, or teething babies biting on their mothers’ breasts. Luckily there are many different ways to make breastfeeding less painful such as using breast pump or nursing tops which offer more comfort during feeding time while also avoiding mastitis by taking care of signs early on. Seek out your doctor if you’re experiencing pain with breastfeeding so that they may recommend what is best for you and your child. Work with a lactation consultant who will teach you how to feed your baby correctly and help alleviate any problems before they escalate into something worse like infection or cracked nipples.
You’ve got this!